Today in History – October 18, 1962 - Watson, Crick, and Wilkins receive Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA as a double helix. They first proposed their model for the structure of DNA in 1953. As this model was composed of two right-handed, antiparallel, polynucleotide chains coiled around a common axis it is sometimes referred to as the double helix. They received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962 “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.
Rosalind Franklin’s work was pivotal in the development of the understanding the structure of DNA as well. She discovered the existence of the A and B forms of DNA and her X-ray crystallographies clearly showed x-ray diffraction patterns of DNA. Alas Rosalind Franklin died of cancer in 1958 at the young age of 37, possibly due to expose to the X-rays she worked with. Watson, Crick and Wilson only recently credited her contributions as key to the development of their model of DNA. Many have speculated that sexism was the reason for not giving her more credit earlier. Regardless, Nobel Prizes are never awarded posthumously so this would not have changed the names on the 1962 award. For more information, see the Rosalind Franklin Society, whose goal is to honor the achievements of Rosalind Franklin by recognizing, fostering, and making known the important contributions of women in science. “Franklin symbolizes progress for women in science — her contributions were not recognized during her lifetime or for many years after her death but today her work is highlighted in textbooks around the world. “
Today, women make up over 50% of the medical school students and women students are reaching parity in bioengineering and biomedical engineering as well – yet they are still less than 10% of the medical and engineering faculty. A recent study of the National Academies titled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering found unintentional biases were a major contributor to the low number of women on our science and engineering faculties. Women face barriers to hiring and promotion in research universities in many fields of science and engineering — a situation that deprives the United States of an important source of talent as the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace. Eliminating gender bias in universities requires immediate, overarching reform and decisive action by university administrators, professional societies, government agencies, and Congress. The report was motivated by former Harvard President Larry Summers’ speculation that the low numbers of women in science and engineering are because women don’t want to work hard enough and that there may be a biological basis. His discounted discrimination as a tertiary factor.